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Air Purifiers & Coronavirus

by Dan Mottola March 13, 2020

16 Comments

 

 

A straightforward look at the complexities of capturing viruses

With the global outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many are wondering whether air purifiers can help combat airborne viruses. Amid much confusion and misinformation, we want to clear the air and provide some useful facts, not to mention a few tips for staying safe. 

Our greatest enemy right now is not the virus itself. It’s fear, rumors, and stigma. And our greatest assets are facts, reason, and solidarity,” said  World Health Organization  Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.   

First and foremost, if you believe you or someone in your household might have COVID-19, take immediate action by following the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines .    

The Facts  

Can an air purifier capture coronavirus? To a degree...Yes.  An air purifier equipped with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air)-rated filter can technically capture a portion of airborne virus-sized particles. Once trapped, viruses cannot multiply on their own or remain infectious for long.  But NO air purifier can completely protect you from a virus.     

"We believe air purification provides additional support to your body’s most important tool for fighting viruses—a healthy immune system," said Alen President, Andy Graham. "It's a passive, 'always-on' way to improve the overall health of a breathing space that doesn’t require major lifestyle changes." 
  In this article, we’ll break down the following:  
  • HEPA filtration technology
  • How current HEPA air purifiers can remove a portion of viruses sized particles from the air
  • How long COVID-19 can survive in your home
  • How purifiers benefit your immune system & support a virus protection plan

An image of the first case of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
An image of the first case of COVID-19, courtesy of the CDC.
Coronavirus’s name comes from tiny spikes that resemble a solar corona.

How HEPA Really Works

Originally developed in support of cleanrooms for atomic energy development, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) created  HEPA  as a specification for suppliers of filtration products based on particle removal effectiveness (e.g., 99.97% at 0.3 microns and above). Filters are commonly perceived as nets or a screen that will stop objects larger than the smallest holes while letting air through.  

 

HEPA filters work much differently than how flies are trapped by a screen, as pictured. HEPA filters trap particles much differently than a simple screen or net.

Here’s the reality: HEPA filters are a complex weave of tiny fibers that carry an electrostatic charge which attracts bypassing particles—more like a magnet than a net. The smaller the fiber with the greater charge coefficient, the greater the likelihood of trapping ever smaller particles. All of this is effective to the extent that air can be channeled through enough filter material without air bypassing around it.

An extreme close-up of HEPA material. Note the irregular, maze-like weave. An extreme close-up of HEPA material, courtesy of Engineering360.

How Do HEPA Air Purifiers Capture Viruses? It’s All About Physics 

The most current state of the art in filter material is referred to as True HEPA or H13 by the DOE.  True HEPA   removes 99.97% of particles at 0.3 microns or higher, but this is a helpful  yet incomplete description of HEPA capability. Even though some of the particles (like the COVID -19   and H1N1 flu viruses) will bypass the filter—a portion of those will be trapped due to the charged magnetic effect of HEPA fibers.

Further enhancing capture of tiny virus particles—which can be over 100 times smaller than particles like dust, pollen, and dander—is a phenomenon known as  Brownian Motion , in which microscopic particles bounce around in zigzag patterns and get trapped in HEPA’s maze-like fibers.

A diagram showing the range of particulates a True HEPA filter can capture
A diagram showing the size range of airborne particles.

But here’s the important take away: Although HEPA is a DOE  specification,  testing and manufacturing protocol in the consumer sector varies to the extent that no purifier brand should claim they can completely protect people from COVID-19. Air purifiers are an additive protective measure if properly sized to a room.

HEPA filters can remove a portion of airborne particles such as COVID-19 and other flu viruses. But the extent of removal that may be truthfully claimed can only be done by proxy tests in controlled environments, which are still underway.

With current HEPA technology, 99% or more of airborne virus particles in a room cannot be removed by an air purifier nor by other means that have yet to be proven. Of course, this would also not include virus particles that remain alive for periods of time on surfaces open to touch. 

How Viruses Spread & Why Air Purifiers Can Help   

COVID-19 spreads by close person-to-person contact, especially when an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the CDC. Virus particles are attached to and carried by water vapor, which are tiny droplets that float in a fine mist. Coughing is one of COVID-19’s main symptoms, so airborne transmission is a big concern.

The only way to reliably remove virus sized particles from the air is by circulating the entire volume of air in a room or enclosed space multiple times per hour to increase the likelihood that nearly weightless virus particles will enter the airflow of a filter.   

To work effectively, a purifier must circulate air throughout your entire room.

 

Since health experts are advising more and more people to stay home, a HEPA air purifier can play a significant role in minimizing airborne transmission and supporting overall wellness.

Essentially, we breathe in rooms or 'boxes' at home, work, restaurants, schools, and play spaces,” said Andy Graham, President of Alen. “Any shared-air breathing space would benefit from a right-sized, always-on air purifier with a well-sealed, high capacity True HEPA air filter .”   

Why Filtering Airborne Viruses is Just One Part of Prevention 

Given justified concerns over the spread of COVID-19, there are some who have suggested that air filtration is ineffective and instead make other recommendations. We believe this is a false dichotomy. Protective measures are both reasonable and cumulative; both/and rather than either/or. Why not take an all-of-the-above approach to virus protection?

Yes, we sell air purifiers and have for 15 years, but we will be the first to recommend additional means of wellness and immune system support in addition to breathing pure air. For example, transmission by physical contact can only be addressed by other non-airborne measures.   

COVID-19 can remain infectious for three hours when aerosolized into floating particles, like a cough or sneeze, according to a  new study. On surfaces, it remains viable for up to three days.

Likewise, “viruses can’t multiply on their own—they must infect the cells of a living creature,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, told  PBS.

What this means is that viruses trapped in an inorganic HEPA filter will stay there and die without further harmful effects. But since COVID-19 can live for up to three days on surfaces, it's critical that you follow ALL the  CDC’s guidelines to prevent illness.

How Air Purifiers Support Immune System Health + Tips to Stay Well

Each airborne particle you inhale—whether it’s a pollutant, allergen, or pathogen—triggers a response by your immune system. By capturing those harmful particles and circulating clean air throughout your space, your body can focus on keeping your immune system strong day and night.

Breathing air that’s free from harmful particles is just one part of a wellness plan that should include ample sleep, plenty of purified water, good hygiene, and a balanced diet.

Many Alen filters feature an antimicrobial coating capable of killing 99.99% of E. Coli and Staph bacteria while inhibiting fungi and mold. Although not tested for viruses, air filters capable of killing other harmful airborne microbes can contribute to a healthier indoor environment.      

According to the CDC, here are the top seven ways to protect yourself from COVID-19 every day: 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. 
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.  

    Information about how to spot and prevent spread coronavirus from the CDC

    Bottom Line

    Air purifiers alone will not protect you from viruses, but they can contribute to an overall healthier indoor environment and better sleep.  A purifier’s effectiveness depends on its ability to draw in contaminated air and circulate pure air throughout your entire breathing space or 'box.' Alen is proud to make top-rated purifiers that do just that—quietly and efficiently.   

    To learn more about Alen’s powerful and customizable line of air purifiers,  click here .    

    Your wellness is our highest priority. Our air quality experts are available to answer your questions 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST M-F and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Call 800-630-2396, email  service@alen.com , or chat at alen.com.  

     

    IMPORTANT: Alen does not provide medical advice. Consult your doctor or a medical professional with healthcare questions.

    Dan Mottola


    16 Responses

    Dan Mottola, Alen Content Marketing Manager
    Dan Mottola, Alen Content Marketing Manager

    March 18, 2020

    @Donna Woodman, Thank you for your comment. Someone from our Customer Support team will reach out to you directly with assistance. We are experiencing an extremely high volume of inquiries, so please bear with us. We sincerely value you as a customer.

    Donna woodman
    Donna woodman

    March 18, 2020

    I have and love it but can not find my papers to order more.filters my husband always ordered them and he passed.so IAM not sure how to order.

    Dan Mottola, Alen Content Marketing Manager
    Dan Mottola, Alen Content Marketing Manager

    March 16, 2020

    @Timothy Aiken, Thank you for your comments. We really do appreciate the gravity of your concerns. Our President, Andy Graham, has emailed you directly with a detailed response. In short, we elected to say what we believe is truthful and helpful in light of a declared National Emergency and pressing anxiety over the subject. Independent test data shows that True HEPA filtration will trap viruses at the Coronavirus size but not at a predictable level across varying airflows. This is why we are working on a higher grade filter that will be more predictably effective in the coming months. The FDA does not currently regulate portable air purifiers because they are not classified as medical devices and industrywide standards have not been adopted. In light of that, we chose to publish the most detailed data possible in response to a wave of advertising by our competitors and an outpouring of questions from customers—to offer a voice of reason and caution in an uncertain time. Thank you for being an Alen customer and for holding us to the highest standard of ethics for a brand committed to wellness. 

    Cynthia Merman
    Cynthia Merman

    March 16, 2020

    We’ve been using the air purifier in our bedroom for almost 5 years. It’s a great help for bedrest. The sound bothers my husband, so we turn it down overnight. So far it’s working well. Thanks for the update re Coronavirus, although I never expected it to prevent any infections.

    Catherine Martin
    Catherine Martin

    March 16, 2020

    We have been very pleased with the two alen units we purchased. I do appreciate the email with pertinent information given regarding the COVID virus and the units capability in capturing and varying amounts of virus particles.

    Dan Mottola, Alen Content Marketing Manager
    Dan Mottola, Alen Content Marketing Manager

    March 15, 2020

    @Judith Walker, Thanks very much for your comment. We sell Prefilter multipacks for customers with concerns just like yours. Click the link below and be sure to select the correct prefilters for your purifier, as sizes vary. When it comes to cleaning prefilters, we advise customers to vacuum their prefilter in place since removing it can release dust, as you noted. However, if you believe someone in your household is sick, we advise people to avoid touching filters or prefilters because viruses can remain infectious for up to three days on surfaces.
    https://www.alencorp.com/pages/search-results-page?q=pre+filter

    Dan Mottola, Alen Content Marketing Manager
    Dan Mottola, Alen Content Marketing Manager

    March 18, 2020

    @MICHAEL ZACHARIOU, Thanks very much for your comment and clarification…

    Bobby
    Bobby

    March 15, 2020

    Great article. Thanks!!

    Brent Bushay
    Brent Bushay

    March 15, 2020

    Been using `Alen filtration since 2010 and have never been disappointed; mine run 24 hr. a day. Every company has their claims but just on the practical side these filters also collect dust particles making it easier to keep the whole house clean besides the ‘other’ added benefits.

    Judith Walker
    Judith Walker

    March 15, 2020

    I wish you would have disposable pre filters since every time I take the pre filter out to wash the dust smacks me in the face as I am removing it. This actually makes the whole thing useless since I now inhale everything at once. Any help with that would be appreciated.

    Michelle
    Michelle

    March 15, 2020

    Great article! I think it also bears mentioning that with a lot of self imposed isolation and social distancing, a lot of people are spending much more time in their home and Alen purifiers help to tremendously improve indoor air quality. So while being mindful of Coronavirus is important, also remembering we are breathing indoor air a lot more throughout the day when confined to the home and it’s very important to make sure that air quality is the best it can be.

    Timothy Aiken
    Timothy Aiken

    March 16, 2020

    Even suggesting “To a degree…Yes” is disingenuous, especially without tests proving to what degree. Until you have such test results to publish that are substantiated by the FDA or a truly unbiased independent lab you should not make such claims. Doing so only adds to confusion and the abundance of misinformation that is circulating. I expect more from a company like Alen. This just seems like a scheme to subtly sell more filters and purifiers. This just does damage to your brand and makes me suspect about making purchases in the future from Alen.

    Judy Templeton
    Judy Templeton

    March 14, 2020

    Thank You for your information.

    Cecilia Shelly
    Cecilia Shelly

    March 14, 2020

    Although as you say it’s not 100% to remove viruses and air born germs, removing other harmful chemicals from all household sprays / solutions we use also help clean my home environment. My family has been using your product for years now and we’ve been blessed so far in the reduction of pollutants in the air we breathe while inside our homes. How often should we change the filters to maintain its efficacy?
    Thanks for this email.

    Michael Zachariou
    Michael Zachariou

    March 14, 2020

    I like and appreciate your blog and from someone who has built and works in clean room environments, it is mostly factual. Except for one statement and implication. HEPA filters (and any filter for that matter) DO NOT KILL VIRUSES. A more accurate and less misleading statement would be “HEPA Filters HELP REMOVE VIRUSES”. This is a very important distinction to make since your users may develop a false sense of security when replacing your filters. They have no way of knowing how long any virus captured in your filters has been there.

    Francess McMahon
    Francess McMahon

    March 14, 2020

    Thank you for your informative email and this blog post. It has been on my “to do” list to call Alen and inquire about the topics that you have addressed in this blog post. Now my phone call is not necessary because my questions have been answered here.

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